New Horizons Returns Photos of Hazy 'Arctic' Pluto
As NASA's New Horizons mission zipped past Pluto and its system of moons on July 14, it carried out an automated, choreographed routine of rapid data gathering. Looking back at the dwarf planet, after closest approach, with dim sunlight scattering through its hazy atmosphere, the spacecraft glimpsed one of the most stunning photos in space history: Pluto blocking the sun, creating a enigmatic view of the tiny world's atmospheric halo.
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Today, in new images released by the New Horizons team, perhaps an even more captivating scene has been realized. While looking back, shortly after flyby from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers), the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) zoomed into a crescent Pluto, through its atmospheric haze, revealing a very "arctic"-looking mountainous landscape.
"This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself," said Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo. "But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto's atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains."
The haze speaks not of a frozen, static environment - there's some incredibly dynamic processes going on that we have only just started to fathom.
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"In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth," said Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons Composition team from Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Ariz.
Weather? Yes, weather.